Tuesday, 29 August 2017


Hello, hello, hello Dear Readers! A couple of bits of business to take care of this morning before we get to the main point of the post.

Over on US Amazon The Swan Kingdom is available in Kindle format for the first time (it's been out over there for eight years, believe it or not) and as an eBook in various other formats, so if you're a USian and you've wanted to get hold of the digital version, behold, your wish has come true.

On UK Amazon, Barefoot on the Wind - my Beauty and the Beast retelling set in fairytale Japan - is now available for pre-order (and presumably it's available other places too, but I haven't looked). It's due out on the 1st of September this year, and I'm hoping that I'll have a cover to share soon. Snap it up right now if it takes your fancy, my lovelies.

Onto Other Stuff! Today's reader question comes from a young person whose name I have stupidly lost - sorry, whoever you are! - but never mind, I can answer their query anyway, and hopefully they will still see it.
I'm struggling with including back-story in a lot of my stories as I like to get straight to where the action is, otherwise I lose interest and move on to something else. So how can I make writing about a character's background more interesting?
A very good question and a topic that I've struggled with in various ways through my own writing. Hopefully this means I can give some practical advice on the topic. Hopefully.


The thing about the term 'backstory' is that it has an inherently negative sort of sound to it. Like something unnecessary bolted onto the back of the real story, but which isn't really part of that story in its own right. And that's just not true, as we shall discuss below. So instead of talking about backstory, let's talk about HIStory. Because that's what 'backstory' really is: the history of your characters and your world.
Phrasing it that way gives us the big clue as to why filling in the background of your characters can be a tricky thing. History is traditionally considered a bit dry and dusty (and I say that as someone who loved history in school, for the record) and no reader really likes the forward momentum of a thrilling story to suddenly grind to a halt for a chapter while they are given a history lesson instead.

Some characters don't need much of their history to be depicted for everything to work. If you give your readers a contemporary setting and a thirteen-year-old protagonist who is the middle child in a normal middle class family, they will not require a detailed history of this person's life so far in order to fill in the gaps. You can concentrate on showing that the kid's unhappy at school and doesn't get on with her siblings right now and the reader will be happy for the story to move forward from there.

If you hate filling readers in on background information then these are the kinds of characters whose stories you may chose to tell.

But let's say your goal is to present your readers with a scarred, one-eyed mercenary who can kill five men with a pencil in under a minute and has a mysterious glowing tattoo and a soft spot for Airedale terriers.

If you *don't* want to share that person's history with the reader... well, why on earth did you come up with that character in the first place? Because everything about them has clearly been shaped by a very interesting and possibly traumatic history, we will *want* to know what their backstory is. What's more, it'll be very tough to care about them in the present until we learn more about it.

Of course, somewhere between those two extremes - the ordinary thirteen year-old and the battle scarred, glowing mercendary - is where you'll find most people's writing. But what you have to get into your head, Dear Reader, is that history is what makes a character who they are. It's not a separate thing from the story you want to tell. It *is* the story, every bit as much as dialogue and descriptions and action are.

Even in a contemporary world with an 'ordinary' main character? You may not need to fill in the blanks of history for the reader, but nevertheless the reader's understanding of or assumptions about the history of the world and the character shape their perception of everything you write.

You, the writer, really need to be clear on each character's background and what major events and choices have formed their personality and priorities. You may not chose to share all of this information with the reader, but if you don't know it then there's a strong chance the person on the page will seem flat and one-dimensional, without a coherent personality and with no spark of inner life.

Take the time to think about this. Work out these histories. Work out who your fictional people are. THEN you can decide what is vital to share about them, and what the reader can work out for themselves.

Some techniques to consider:

You can try to do what many young adult and genre authors do, which is to kick your story off at the very moment that the protagonist's life actually becomes interesting - the moment that it all goes to hell in a handbasket, basically. An example of this would be Shadows on the Moon, where the first line of the book is: On my fourteenth birthday when the sakura was in full bloom, the men came to kill us.

Nothing that has happened to the character in their past can compare to that, so the reader is happy for the story to grow from that point.

That's a bit difficult to manage for every kind of book or story though. If it just won't work for yours, you could chose to focus very much on who your character is now - making them particularly intriguing or charismatic - so that it is less important to the reader to know where they came from and what shaped them, and more important to find out exactly how their character works now, what they will chose to do next, and how those choices may shape the story.

This is going to take some skillful work, because you need to still give the readers the impression that this person *has* a past, and an inner life. They still need to feel nuanced and human and real. But their past must be something that the reader is willing and able to fill in for themselves because their present is more interesting.

For instance, you could create a famous safe-cracker whose past career is a thing of legend, hinted at in whispers by other members of your cast. This person chooses to live in isolation in a tiny cabin in the woods miles from anywhere and, once coaxed out of retirement, constantly expects betrayal and refuses to get close to anyone. If that same character turns out to be able to change a baby's nappy and sing them to sleep without turning an eyelash, the reader can guess even more about their past. Doing so will give them a sense of satisfaction because it's a story we're all familiar with - and although it's clearly tragic, we'll be more keen to know what's going to happen next, especially if the other characters around them come to their own conclusions about this person's history too.

The reader might still wish they could learn a bit more about this person's past. But if you carefully shape the story in such a way that the action in the present is illustrating this person's character - lets say that the story is about whether or not this person will be able to work with the others in order to pull off a thrilling heist that will lead to the defeat an intergalactic army - then THAT is what we will care about, not the specific details of how the mysterious safe-cracker came to be the way they are.

You don't have to offer us much background in this case because you've actually put it in the foreground via your choices about what to show in the present.

Doing it this way also means that you can give us a character who is capable of plausible change and development during the course of your story.

But let's say this all sounds too complex. It's not the only way to escape having to fill in the character's background in detail. Some characters are presented to us exactly as they are, and we can learn everything that we either need or want to know about them within a few pages.

When you meet that funny little genius Hercule Poirot it's clear to see that the man is a tightly wound ball of eccentricities and tics created to keep the reader entertained while the whodunnit is gradually unraveled. We know he used to be a policeman, and we know that he's actually getting on in years, so he's had a whole life before he turns up in the pages of the first Hercule Poirot mystery. But we feel no need to penetrate the mysteries of his former career or know about his lost loves or why he decided to move to England instead of returning to Belgium after the war. In fact, showing us a young Hercule Poirot (or a young Sherlock Holmes, or Indiana Jones or Han Solo) actually spoils the mystique and makes the character somehow much less interesting than they were before.

For some stories, that's all you need. The readers will embrace the mysterious mercenary who likes dogs but will happily stab anyone who approaches her with a pencil and make up their own history for her precisely because so much is left unsaid. Clearly she is not a character that we are meant to know. She's a vehicle to carry us through the story.

However, this strategy of leaving the heavy lifting to the reader's imagination has drawbacks, too. You have to be careful that in presenting things this way you don't leave so many obvious blanks in the history of the character - traits that don't add up with each other, or that seem to contradict things we know about them in the now - that these blanks stop being a pleasant space for the reader to mentally play and become a puzzle. Because if you present the reader with a puzzle within your story world and then don't give them the solution? They will become very, very annoyed with you very fast. And you can protest that you did this on purpose because you wanted to leave it ambiguous all you want - the reader will feel that you have broken your implicit promise to them and they will not be placated!

What's more, this will only work if the character you are presenting this way has no significant development within the story that you're presenting. Hercule Poirot is always Hercule Poirot - he observes, he deducts, and he reveals, but he himself is left completely unchanged by any of the gruesome and extraordinary events that he witnesses. Indiana Jones is Indiana Jones and Sherlock Holmes is Sherlock Holmes. We don't need them to change - we don't want them to! Part of their brilliance is that they are unchanging and unchangeable.

So if you want to produce work in which your characters evolve and grow and change throughout the course of the book, then this method is out.

You can also try to look at your characters histories in a different way and see if that helps you to feel more enthusiasm for sharing them. You say that you want to get straight to the action. So get straight to the action, then! Don't give us any history to start with. Present us with your thrilling car chase or sword fight and show us who the characters are now, mysteries and all.

Continue to depict them in the story's now, hinting at their pasts and what they've been through. Make it clear to the reader that their history as intriguing and complex and fascinating, but don't tell them what it is. By a certain point both the reader and you, the writer, will find yourself desperate to finally get stuck into the truth of how this person can bake the best pain au chocolats in Paris, climb a building using only paperclips, and swear in five languages, but screams when they see a spider.

Hopefully, having done all this teasing, it will not feel like such a burden to delve into their past and illuminate it for yourself and the reader.

There are a number of methods you can use to do this. The person can decide to confide a bit about their history to another character - a character they are furious with, perhaps, or one they've begun to trust. This is a good way of doing it because it clearly deepens their relationship (yes, even if the truth is blurted out during an argument) and because seeing characters vulnerable inherently engages the reader's sympathy with them and makes them seem more real.

Alternately, they can have a flashback.

Don't panic! It can be a tiny one! For instance, as they prepare to climb the side of the Eiffel Tower using only a handful of paperclips, they suddenly recall the first time they climbed the walls of the Sisters of Bleeding Mercy Home For Wayward Orphans when they were seven years old in order to rescue the bird with a broken wing from the guttering. They remember the flutter of the bird's heartbeat against their palm and smile or sigh. Then they get on with climbing the Eiffel Tower. Boom, you're done.

Little flashbacks like this blend so well into current action that the reader doesn't feel the story has paused at all, and you can work quite a lot of them into the narrative if you do it carefully, meaning that the character's history seamlessly becomes part of the action of now.

If there's just too much history to fit into the narrative this way, you could go for a longer flashback - one that covers a key moment of the character's past and explains a few things about their strange and contradictory quirks at once. If you do this, however, you need to ensure that we already have our sympathies and interests firmly engaged with this character, and that the scene from their past that you chose to depict is both significant and fascinating in it's own right. The flashback is putting the story's present on hold, so we need to feel that this information is vital to understanding the story's present, rather than that it's just been shoe-horned in there randomly.

Finally, if a character's past is so vital to understanding their present that there's no way for the story to begin properly without some hint of it, you could try using the sort of technique I used in FrostFire, where you entwine the character's past and their present so that they feel of equal importance to the reader. You present them as dual narratives - perhaps distinguishing them by using a different font, or by announcing 'Ten Years Ago' or 'Present Day' when you switch to help the reader keep track. You ensure that both the past and present stands of the story have action and unfolding mysteries and changing relationships, so the 'past' sections never feel as if they're stopping the action. Instead, they are clearly part of the action.

FrostFire begins with a description of a recurring, terrifying dream that the heroine has suffered from all her life. We then get a scene from the heroine's childhood - a depiction of a moment when the heroine's young life seemed genuinely in danger... and then something very strange clearly happens. The scene ends before we can work out exactly what it is. We then see an older version of the heroine, searching for something which seems as if it might be linked to what happened to her as a little girl.

For the first half of the book, the mystery of the heroine's strange condition and her past unfolds side by side with the action of the present. Only at the midpoint does the past catch up with the present. Then, the reader understands all that there is to know about the heroine's past and her frightening magic, and the story can fully inhabit her future going forward.

Does all this seem incredibly complex? That's because it is! But it's all part of the craft of being a writer and eventually, if you try to view your characters 'backstory' as just another, potentially valuable part of the story that you're so keen to tell, you will learn how to use these techniques and even enjoy doing so.

And if not, you can always write about the next Hercule Poirot. After all, it worked for Agatha Christie...

Monday, 28 August 2017


Hello, Dear Readers! Welcome to Retro-Tuesday - the first one in a long time! - a Zoë-Trope tradition in which I raid the blog's archives to find a nicely matured yet still juicy post that I think some of you may have missed the first time around, or may enjoy reading again, and drag it kicking and struggling back into the spotlight.

And the post we're revisiting today? Is a popular one from back in 2012:


You're all well aware by now that the plethora of so-called 'rules' about writing which are splashed all over the internet drive me up the wall. They're almost always misapplied and misunderstood, and even the ones that started out as common sense now generally cause more harm than good. One of the most common rules I see - and the one that probably annoys me most - is Show Don't Tell. Mainly because it's flat out wrong. You cannot write *any* story, even the most action-packed, fast-paced story, without telling. You'd end up with a book that was a million words long and incredibly boring. A lot of stuff in almost every story does not NEED to be told.

The advice should be: Show Where Appropriate And Tell Where Appropriate. But that isn't nearly as snappy, and what's more, makes it clear exactly what the problem with the SDT mantra is: it's not always so easy to know just when you should show and when you should tell.

Figuring out when to show and when to tell (and how to distinguish between the two) is a big part of improving the quality of your writing. But there's no easy way to do it. The fact is that every writer choses to show or tell different parts of their story depending on what's important to them. What's more, their methods of showing and telling differ vastly. These choices make up a part of your individual style as writer.

Writer A might chose to show action with detailed, loving scenes, but tell most of their characters dialogue through short summaries of the information exchanged. Writer B might show a lot of their characters interactions with beautiful, naturalistic dialogue, and skip the action, merely telling us what happened in a quick paragraph and moving on.

Or, more subtly, this second writer might WANT to skip the action, but realise that doing so with a piece of pure telling would rob the story of a dramatic pay-off that it required. So the writer might make an effort to show at least part of the big fight - but they wouldn't make it the centre-piece of their plot. This writer would always come up with stories in which the pivotal character moments and choices came during arguments, conversations and other pieces of dialogue.

Fans of this writer's books would be the type that are into reading about relationships rather than fights, and therefore if an editor were to come along and convince that writer into suddenly 'showing' the action scenes in much more depth and detail, and making the action a bigger part of the story, they would actually be doing a disservice to those readers - and the story that the author originally wanted to tell.

The fact remains though, that there are some things which must be shown. Too many characters fall utterly flat because the writer seems to be incapable of showing the reader who they are. It's no good telling us (or having the character tell us, if the novel is first person POV) that the main character is a kind, quiet and studious person if, throughout the entire story, they never think about anyone but themselves, never display any hesitance to talk or get involved, and never so much as think about picking up a book.

I don't mean that you can't take characters and plunge them into situations which put them out of their depth, challenge them, and force them to develop new skills. In fact, that's just what you *should* do (see last week's post!). But you need to show - in their unique reactions to the various trials they endure - that they possess the traits you've chosen for them. You can TELL us that someone is kind and quiet all you like - you can have them tell us that, and all the other characters around them repeating it - but if their actions don't SHOW that? Then they AREN'T.

It's bad enough if this character whom you've told us is so kind actually shows us behaviour which indicates they're self-obsessed, judgmental and catty. But at least then they have a personality of some kind. What is even worse is where a character displays no real personality traits at all, other than always somehow acting in exactly the way that the plot requires them to act in order for it to keep proceeding.

When this sort of disconnect between telling and showing happens, at best it starts to feel like the writer doesn't know their character (or that the character doesn't know themselves). At worst? The character fails to feel like a person at all. They die on the page, and the illusion of life and reality which it is the writer's job to foster dies too. We're left with black marks on a page - which is all a story is, after all, if it can't awaken the reader's imagination.

I'm going to give you an example of what telling in characterisation looks like and how you can fix it with some fairly simple showing. And to do this I'm going to use Twilight. Why? Well, firstly because this is one of those books where there's a really obvious disconnect between what the character tells us about herself (and what the other people in the story say about her) and her actual actions and traits as shown in the story. But also because I can't really figure out how to show you this without using a real example, and Stephenie Meyer cannot possibly be harmed or upset by my using her book as an example of bad writing like some other authors (who are even more guilty of this) might be.

So. Bella Swan. We're told that she cares about her dad a lot but finds it hard to express this, as does he. This is important in terms of characterisation because late in the story Bella is forced to deliberately hurt her father in order to protect him - to finally express herself to him, but in a really cruel and deceptive way - and that moment means nothing if Bella and Charlie don't care deeply for each other.

You can see Smeyer trying to set up the unspoken but deeply felt relationship developing between Bella and her dad via short bursts of telling in Twilight (because she reserves almost all her showing for Edward) but it doesn't really work because we never get to see it. Thus that moment when Bella hurts Charlie, which should be a heart-wrenching, real life consequence of Bella's willingness to sacrifice herself for her fairytale romance with Edward, does fall flat. Which is a shame; it would only have needed one or two good pieces of showing to fix this.

Here's an example of Bella telling us about her and her dad's interactions: 
Charlie seemed suspicious when he came home and smelled the green peppers. I couldn't blame him - the closest edible Mexican food was probably in Southern California. But he was a cop, even if just a small-town cop, so he was brave enough to take the first bite. He seemed to like it. It was fun to watch as he slowly began trusting me in the kitchen.
There's nothing wrong with this piece of writing per se, but it doesn't achieve what it's really supposed to, which is to give us a concrete feeling for these two quiet yet profoundly emotional people who are tentatively connecting as a father and daughter. Unfortunately, Bella never really comes across as a quiet, profoundly emotional person in the story - overdramatic and ineffectual come closer to the mark. Again, that's because of the disconnect between what the author tells us and what she shows us.

But what if we were to show this scene instead? It would end up a lot longer than this neat paragraph (and take us away from the constant refrain of EDWARDEDWARDEDWARD in Bella's brain) but it might go some way toward giving the reader a sense that Charlie and Bella, and their relationship, actually *are* what Smeyer TELLS us they are. It would make Bella's actions in deliberately hurting Charlie truly painful for the reader, it would give us an understanding of just how perilous her decision to pursue Edward is, how strong her love for him must be. Hell, it might even allow us to like Bella a bit more.

So how do we do that?

Let's look at what that paragraph is TELLING:

1) Bella's cooking and Charlie is suspicious.

2) Charlie tries the food.

3) Bella's pleased and amused that Charlie is gradually coming to trust her in the kitchen.

Now, what I think Smeyer was attempting to SHOW us here, was:

1) Charlie doesn't know Bella very well yet, which is pretty sad for a father and daughter. He doesn't trust her to be able to cook something unfamiliar to him, especially since her mother is apparently an awful cook. But despite this, we can assume that Charlie sits down in the kitchen and lets Bella serve him.

2) Bella gives Charlie the food. Charlie, who is a brave man (Note: lay off small town cops, Smeyer! They have to deal with plenty of traumatic stuff, trust me) and who probably doesn't want to hurt Bella's feelings, especially since they're just developing a relationship, tries the food.

3) Charlie likes the food, or at least makes sure to give Bella the impression that he does, which is sweet of him because he's not a demonstrative man or one who is good at expressing himself. Bella is happy with his approval and the fact that he has actually shown it (her mother, who seems like a pretty negligent parent, probably forgot to show Bella this kind of appreciation).

How do we make all that stuff explicit and accessible to the reader? How do we SHOW it instead of telling it? It's actually quite simple. Here's an alternate, showing version of that paragraph which I knocked up in about ten minutes (apologies for cliches and obvious mistakes).
"Hey, Bells." Charlie stopped dead as he came into the kitchen through the back door. He sniffed the air warily. "You're cooking again. Ah...what exactly is that?"

I turned away to hide my smile at his suspicious look. "Green peppers." 

I heard a faint sigh, and my smile got wider as I busied myself plating up the food. Behind me, my dad was taking off his coat, putting his gun in the drawer, and then pulling out a chair at the place I'd set for him at the kitchen table.

"Are you hungry?"I asked, glancing at him over my shoulder. 

He made a helpless shrugging motion. "Sure."

It was hard to keep a straight face as I added some extra to his plate and carried it over. I went back to the counter to make my own plate, keeping on eye on Charlie as I did. He stared down at his plate for a moment, brows wrinkling, then glanced at me. I met his eyes steadily, and he sighed again, slumping in his seat a little as he reached for the fork. He cut a generous piece of enchilada, closed his eyes, and stuffed it in.

About three seconds later his eyes popped open again. He chewed thoughtfully. "This is... this is actually pretty good."

I carried my food to the table and sat down opposite him, not hiding my smile anymore. "It's one of my favourites. I thought you'd like it."

Charlie was digging in now, ploughing through his full plate. He really was hungry. "It's great, Bells! You're a much better cook than...ah... "

"Thanks," I said, rushing to fill the gap when his voice trailed off. "I've been cooking since I was about five."

He flashed a sudden brilliant grin at me, suddenly looking years younger. "I guess it's hard to order takeout when you're five."

"Oh, I tried," I muttered. 

Charlie laughed, a low, muted chuckle that sounded a little rusty with disuse. "Well, you can cook for me anytime."
I could feel my cheeks going tomato red, and I ducked my head to stare at my glass of water.
Oh God, I'm so moved by this it actually brought tears to my eyes. Charlie! Bella! You sweet, crazy kids! JUST HUG! *Weeps*.


Yeah, you can see that the showing is... long. Much longer than Smeyer's original paragraph of telling. But it accomplishes SO MUCH MORE. Instead of a few bland lines that impart information but no emotion, we now have something which gives us a moment of real connection between these two and highlights how very similar they are, and how much they could grow to love and rely on each other. Charlie is adorable and Bella's not only displayed an actual (if somewhat dry and restrained) sense of humour, but also empathy toward's Charlie's feelings for her mum, and pleasure with Charlie's consideration for her. These things aren't my inventions - they're all implied in the text, but because we don't SEE them in Smeyer's version, they don't have any impact.

If something like this scene - and there are a dozen places where it could have happened, and a dozen different ways it could have been written - had actually been in the book, wouldn't we have liked Bella ten times more, and felt so much more invested in Charlie and Bella's emerging father/daughter relationship? Even if it only happened *once*!?

This is why Show Don't Tell has become such a writing mantra. And even though this advice is now widely overused and misunderstood, in some cases it still holds true. Telling may take one paragraph and showing one page - but that one page of showing may work hard enough that you can cut out a dozen paragraphs of telling throughout. So bear showing in mind, not just for big fat action scenes, but when you're trying to demonstrate relationships and characters.

If there's anything you truly need your readers to FEEL? Show it. 

Tuesday, 22 August 2017


Hi everyone! Happy Tuesday to all. Various exciting and/or nervewracking things are happening here at Casa Zolah (or, more accurately, in London and Wales, but directly affecting Casa Zolah) over this week and next week (and maybe the week after, Iunno), and I basically can't talk about a single one of them, which is making it... a liiitle tough to know what to blog about right now?

BUT! I have found this great new YouTube Channel (belonging to the author Rachael Stephen) and one of her videos is already making me have a big-ol' writer-crush on her because it is BRILLIANT.

So here it is. Check it out and see if it helps you the way it helped me today when I came across it!


In other news, my Patreon is still steadily ticking over with updated content every week. I'd love to see some new subscribers, but although I only have three right now I very much appreciate each and every one of them, and the fact that they're motivating me to re-read, update and improve so many essays I've written in the past. It's fun!

If you can't subscribe but you've found my writing and publishing advice useful in the past, or have had questions answered by me, please do share the page to your Facebook, Twitter, or wherever and maybe some other folks will have their memories jogged or their interest piqued and decide to subscribe themselves or share too.

Read you later, my lovelies!

Sunday, 6 August 2017


Hello, Dear Readers! BIG ANNOUNCEMENT today!

No, I'm not giving up on writing and moving to Tibet to herd yaks. I'm not changing my name to Lady Floreline P. Scumbletrump, getting a nose job, or switching genres to sexy romance novels with barechested hunks on the cover and titles like 'Seducing the Laird's Virgin Mistress'.

It's far more exciting than that.

I've launched a Patreon page!

Right here: https://www.patreon.com/zoemarriott

What the flying pamplemoose is a Patreon page, you ask? I would be happy - nay, delighted - to explain, Dear Readers.

But first we need to back up a little bit.

You see, for years and years and years here on The Zoë-Trope - since 2010, eep - I've been writing in-depth essays about all aspects of the writing craft and providing individual advice on issues like writer's block, motivation, publishing and the reality of the writing life. The blog's grown from teeny-tiny beginnings to the point where it gets around 1500 hits per day - nearly 50,000 a month. That's more than I ever could have dreamed when I started out! I used to get excited if I got 30 hits a week!

Professional writers have (with permission!) reproduced my essays in their classrooms order to teach creative writing at university level. My words have been quoted in writing magazines and even national newspapers. The All About Writing Archive contains hundreds of posts, hundreds of thousands of words, and represents years of my life. It's helped make me so many friends and I also believe that it's made me a better writer.

What it doesn't do at the moment is help to support my actual job, which (to my continuing surprise and joy) is writing ground-breaking, diverse, Feminist fantasy novels for young adults.

I'm a full-time writer. This means I'm effectively running a small business on my own. I spend a lot of time on things like organising receipts, keeping accounts, writing and sending and chasing up invoices, completing tax returns, arranging and attending book events, and promoting my work. If I don't have a contract with a publisher (and right now I don't) I need to find the money to support myself through other work (like my Royal Literary Fellowship) or through writing grant applications and entering competitions and prizes and crossing my fingers.

All of this takes time. A LOT OF TIME. I can't emphasize this enough. Actual writing doesn't even make up 50% of the time I spend working. Every writer I know is the same: we're constantly scrambling for any extra moment (in a cafe, on the bus or train, while in the hospital waiting room) to actually get some writing done.

And one of the biggest draws on my time, historically, has been my blog.

Now, I love this blog. I love YOU GUYS and having the chance to interact with you and talk to you about books and publishing and writing. I can't even express how much it means to me. But if I spend a day organising my receipts and chasing invoices, that has a direct and positive result on my business - I know what money is going out and am making sure I have money coming in. If I go to a book event to promote myself and sell a bunch of signed books, that is literally keeping my business afloat. And if I spend a day writing, and produce 2000 words, then that's contributing towards my art AND hopefully producing a piece of work which I can one day sell so that I can keep my business going for another year.

But if I spend a day writing a 2000 word essay for this blog, or answering someone's writing related question? It doesn't contribute towards my income or the well-being of my business at all. This isn't promotional stuff - it's not like sharing updates on book releases or events or even snippets of what I'm working on. In fact, it's taking time away from tasks that DO help to bring in some income. In other words, running the blog basically costs money that I (and, you know, my dog and the cats) need to live on.

As a result, the busier I've got trying to keep my business going - and the more worried I've been about money - the less time and joy I've had to dedicate to answering questions and writing essays.

That's been pretty sad for me, if I'm honest. I'm sure it's also been sad for you, Dear Readers. I've let Reader Questions and Tips for Young Writers nearly disappear from the blog at this point. The All About Writing archive hadn't been updated for over a year, and it was never really complete. Given the somewhat sucky search function on Blogger, that's a lot of advice and information that's not being utilised to its fullest extent, and a lot of questions going unanswered.

And that's where Patreon comes in. 

Because Patreon is a rather cool platform on which artists and other creative people like myself can offer exclusive content and rewards to fans who help support them.

I've taken down the (somewhat crappy) All About Writing page that used to live here - and I'm going to recreate it there. But better. I'm going to re-write, revise and refresh every single essay and piece of advice I've ever given and then repost it on my Patreon feed. I'll post at least one, preferably two pieces of writing or publishing related content every week, and sometimes more. I'll go back to answering reader questions on a regular basis. Once I reach a certain number of followers I'll open up a monthly poll that Patrons can vote in to tell me what aspects of writing they'd like me to explore, explain, and offer advice on.

This blog will still exist, and will still be updated a couple of times a month. I'll still rant here occasionally about Feminism, offer book reviews, and talk about what I'm working on and what I've got happening in terms of book releases and events. But readers who want more than that - which I know isn't everyone! - can subscribe to the Patreon for as little as about two quid a month in order to have access to that archive of in-depth, up-to-date writing advice. People who subscribe at the higher tier get to ask questions and have them answered, and those on the top tier (still under eight quid a month) get all that AND will get to see their names in the acknowledgements of all my books, as well as receiving advanced copies and other cool things.

Readers who chose to support me and want that extra content will have an ever-evolving resource where they are always guaranteed to get exactly the stuff they want, every week. And I can spend the time required to maintain and expand on that resource without feeling harried and guilty about taking the time away from 'real' work. Because creating writing essays and answering questions will now BE PART OF MY JOB.

How cool is that?

Head over to my Patreon and check it out, lovelies. There's one free post already available there and two more in the Patron only feed waiting. If you feel it's good value for money, you can become a part of a brand new community of writers there. And even if you can't subscribe yourself - which I totally understand! - you can still really help by sharing the page on social media and sending links to any of your writing friends you think might be interested.

I'm very excited about this. So like it says on the Patreon page itself: JOIN ME! We'll have fun and learn stuff :)

Tuesday, 1 August 2017


Hello, hello, hello Dear Readers! Happy Wednesday! I meant to write this report yesterday but honestly it's taken me this long to recover from the wonderful yet exhausting whirlwind that was my very first proper Young Adult Literature Convention (I did do the winter pop-up in 2014, but that was so teeny-tiny in comparison it literally does not count).

First up, thanks must go to all the people I've stolen photos from for this, because I don't have a smartphone and although I did take my camera I was so busy running around that I remembered to take it out of my bag exactly once. You are good people, Emily, Imogen, Kerry and Shanna!

I got up at about 5:30am on Saturday and walked and did obedience training with my dog for nearly an hour in a quest to quieten him down so that I didn't feel quite so guilty about dropping him off with my mum. Because he's a maniac. Sorry mum. Then I did various elaborate (but ultimately futile because humidity and rain) things to my hair, slapped on some make-up and a dress and hopped on the train to London, filled with fizzing nerves and excitement. This was me on the train, before my hair gave up the fight.

Ah, sweet volume, we hardly knew ye...

Sadly, despite the weather forecast insisting that it would be a fine and sunny day in London, and therefore that a dress would be a practical choice, by the time I arrived at the Olympia venue in Kensington where YALC was taking place, it was POURING. I don't just mean a drizzle here, folks. It was so bad that the pavements were mostly puddle. It was therefore in a rather damp and dishevelled state that I presented myself to the helpful staff members who directed me to the entire floor of the venue which YALC had commandeered this year.

I stopped by the Walker Books booth (looking good, ladies!) to say hello and then, in true book geek stylee, headed to the bookshop, where I snagged an armful of books, including one from the lists of each of my fellow panelists, and took this:

This was just past 13:00 on the Saturday and, as I confirmed with the Waterstones staff running the shop, Barefoot on the Wind and Shadows on the Moon had already sold out. Which was YAY but also BOO because obviously I didn't want people to not be able to get the books I was going to be talking about on my panel! Oh, well. I decided to be positive about it. As I was stuffing my haul into my tiny roll-on bag, two more lovely Walker people (Hi Rosi! Hi Kirsten!) appeared and gently led me away, reminding me that I needed to collect my author pass and sign in before going off on jollies. Oops.

I did see and get to hug the lovely and talented One Italian Summer writer Keris Stainton on the way, though. Hi Keris!

As we were collecting my pass and then heading to the green room, I confided in Rosi and Kirsten that I'd hoped to get a book signed for my sister, but that the signing queue was so long I doubted I'd get to the writer in question before my panel. Then Emily, who's been working with me at Walker while Wonder Editor has been on maternity leave, turned up, along with several other authors I had wanted to meet - Hi Laura Lam! Hi Elizabeth May! - and Imogen Russell Will who was running my panel, and much book related discussion ensured.

Suddenly, a text on my phone! Cunning Kirsten had slipped off and had a chat with someone running the signing queues, and had managed to get them to let me jump the line and get that book signed for my sister! Joy! But also FREAK OUT because the author in question?

Yes, that is LAINI TAYLOR. Actual real-life Laini Taylor. And me next to actual real-life Laini Taylor trying not to be the one weirdest person she met at YALC... but failing oh so miserably. I nearly fainted at her feet.

But no matter, for the signed book was in my grasp! *Uncontrollable fangirl giggles*

And then, since we were there and her signing queue had just about come to an end, we went to talk to lovely fellow Walker author and superstar Lauren James as well. Her book The Loneliest Girl in the Universe was the number one bestseller at YALC this year and one of the first books I snatched up at the shop. She very kindly signed my copy for me:

And our dresses nearly match, how cool is that? Although hers had spaceships on and mine had golden flamingoes, which probably says something profound about our personalities...

Or maybe not.

Anyway, back to the green room, where the other authors from my panel were beginning to collect. I nattered away at the fascinating Deirdre Sullivan, Julia Gray, Joanne Harris and Peadar O Guilin and also managed to grab Laura Dockrill to ask for her opinions on mermaid retellings before the panel started. But eventually they herded us together, took some pictures:

And then the real fun began! 
What is my face doing in this shot? I dunno, but it's hilarious.

This was one of the best panels I've ever been on - it was delightful. Imogen Russell Wills had prepared really well, and her questions were SPOT ON. Even though there were quite a few of us talking we all managed to get time to express ourselves, and have some back-and-forth between us.

The best thing was that the audience was 100% there for this event - really involved and not afraid to ask questions. I was quite sad when it was over, and they firmly took us away and took us to the signing area. Where CELL7 author and lovely person Kerry Drewery was waiting for me with a hug and nice words about the panel to calm me down - hi Kerry!

To my surprise - and delight! - my queue turned out to be... huge? I was sure that with so many other, much more famous authors there everyone would be far too busy to come and wait for my autograph, but apparently not!

I signed for about an hour and a half before my queue ran out, and thanks to the lovely Shanna, there was a seat saved for me at the one panel I was going to have time to attend, and the one panel above all that I was desperate to attend - the Books That Made Me panel with V.E. Schwab, Laini Taylor and Joanne Harris, run by (a beautifully costumed) Katherine Woodfine. It was everything I'd hoped for, and I even got to ask a question during the Q&A. It was glorious and a perfect end to my YALC experience, especially since I got the chance to say hi to Victoria Schwab in the green room before she left.

We won't dwell on the fact that the rain was still pouring outside, that I narrowly missed the Tube to Earl's court and had to wait for nearly 30mins for the next one, that rush hour was on (making Tube travel an utter misery on a normal day, let alone a rainy one) or that it took me nearly two hours from there to get back to my hotel. None of that matters. All that matters is: I'll never forget my first proper YALC and I really hope to be invited back again next year.

Before heading home on the train the next morning, I even had a little time to eat breakfast in the sun with one of the excellent books I'd obtained on Saturday:

And then I nearly fell asleep on the train, so I wrote 1000 words in my notebook in order to stay awake... but that's another story.

Did you get to YALC this year, Dear Readers (I know some of you did, 'cos I met you!)? What have you been up to? Throw your answers in the comments, darlings! xx
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...